Google's $349 Pixel 4a vs. Apple's $399 iPhone SE

Google this week launched its newest smartphone, the $349 Pixel 4a, a low-cost device that's designed to compete with other affordable devices like Apple's iPhone SE.

We picked up one of the new Pixel 4a smartphones and thought we'd check it out to see how it measures up to the ‌iPhone SE‌, given that the two devices have such similar price points.


Both the Pixel 4a and the ‌iPhone SE‌ are "budget" phones that lack some of the features available in more expensive smartphones available from the two companies, but both are capable devices that offer similar performance.

The Pixel 4a feature a 5.81-inch OLED panel, which is larger than the iPhone's 4.7-inch LCD display. It has a pinhole camera cutout but is otherwise all screen, which gives it a more modern look and more viewable display area. The ‌iPhone SE‌ continues to feature thick top and bottom bezels that cut down on screen viewing area.

pixel4a1
When it comes to a straight display quality comparison, you might think the Pixel 4a would be leagues better with the OLED panel, but both are close in quality (see video for comparison). The 4a wins out with OLED, but the ‌iPhone SE‌'s LCD panel still looks good.

The ‌iPhone SE‌ has a Touch ID Home Button in the bottom bezel, and the Pixel 4a also uses a fingerprint sensor, but it's located at the rear of the device. ‌Touch ID‌ beats out most other fingerprint sensors when it comes to accuracy and phone unlocking time, and there's no exception here. Google's fingerprint sensor is fine, but ‌Touch ID‌ is more accurate and less prone to failure.

pixel4a4
To keep costs low, Google built the Pixel 4a out of plastic, so when it comes quality, the ‌iPhone SE‌'s glass and aluminum design wins out. It looks and feels like a more premium smartphone than the Pixel 4a, but the glass has more potential to break.

pixel4a2
The ‌iPhone SE‌ is equipped with Apple's latest A13 chip, which is blazing fast. It puts the ‌iPhone SE‌ on par with Apple's flagship iPhones when it comes to performance, a factor that makes the ‌iPhone SE‌'s $399 price a good deal for those who are more focused on performance.

The Pixel 4a has an Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 processor, but it doesn't perform at the level of the A13. You may not notice a significant difference in every day usage, but there are some tasks where the ‌iPhone SE‌ will outshine the 4a, which is just a bit laggier and less smooth.

pixel4a3
When it comes to battery life, the Pixel 4a has a 3,140mAh battery while the ‌iPhone SE‌ has a 1,821mAh battery, and MacRumors videographer Dan felt that the Pixel 4a had noticeably better battery life in his testing. The Pixel 4a also sports 6GB RAM and 128GB base storage, while the ‌iPhone SE‌ has 3GB RAM and 64GB base storage, so you're getting more storage for a lower price point with the Pixel.

While the ‌iPhone SE‌ offers a Lightning port and wireless charging, the Pixel 4a has no wireless charging and a USB-C port, which is a consideration for those who prefer wireless charging or USB-C port access.

The ‌iPhone SE‌ has an older camera that was first used in the ‌iPhone‌ 8, and it's a 12-megapixel single-lens setup. The Pixel 4a also has a single-lens 12.2-megapixel camera, but it has some of Google's computational photography and image processing features, so photos on the 4a look better.

pixel4aphoto1
‌iPhone SE‌ photos feature a more natural color palette while the Pixel 4a's photos are cooler in tone, but the Pixel 4a images are sharper and crisper, even when lighting is poor. Google gave the Pixel 4a Night Sight, but Apple's ‌iPhone SE‌ doesn't support the Night Mode feature available in more expensive iPhones.

pixel4aphoto2
Apple does win out when it comes to video quality, though, because the ‌iPhone SE‌ supports 4K 60fps video and it has much better image stabilization than the Pixel 4a.

The ‌iPhone SE‌ runs iOS and the Pixel 4a runs Android, and since most of us are locked in to one ecosystem or another, operating system is one of the biggest factors when it comes to choosing a smartphone. Someone who has always used iPhones is likely going to opt for the ‌iPhone SE‌, and the same goes for Android and the Pixel 4a.

Both of these phones offer solid value for the price point, so it really comes down to ecosystem. Apple guarantees iOS updates for years to come, so the ‌iPhone SE‌ should be supported until at least 2024. Android smartphones don't often get as many updates, but Google is better about providing new software for Pixel phones and has pledged to provide updates for the Pixel 4a for at least three years.

pixel4a5
In the future, we may actually see an Apple-designed lower-cost smartphone that more closely mirrors the design of the Pixel 4a because Apple's rumored to be working on a new version of the ‌iPhone SE‌ called the ‌iPhone SE‌ Plus. It allegedly features an all-display design with a fingerprint sensor built into the power button, but it's not coming out until 2021.

Top Rated Comments

jetjaguar Avatar
16 months ago
Pixel 4a looks like a great phone for the money
Score: 31 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JPack Avatar
16 months ago
Agreed - this review is sloppy.

"You might think the Pixel 4a would be leagues better with the OLED panel, but both are close in quality. The 4a wins out, but the iPhone SE is not too far off."

"Touch ID beats out most other fingerprint sensors when it comes to accuracy and phone unlocking time, and there's no exception here. Google's fingerprint sensor is fine, but Touch ID is better."

These are almost meaningless statements. How is it better? Give us some examples to qualify these statements.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Eriamjh1138@DAN Avatar
16 months ago
I’m sure google will sell tens of them.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TechieGeek Avatar
16 months ago
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but this is a sloppy review.

Does the battery on the Pixel actually last longer, or is the author only comparing their mAh ratings? Because the way this review is written, the author is only comparing mAh ratings.

You missed that the Pixel doesn’t have wireless charging, but does have USB-C instead of a lightning port.

You missed the the iPhone SE costs $399 for 64GB storage, while the Pixel 4a costs $349 for 128GB storage

I wish you could pull down the iOS notifications menu using a gesture on the TouchID sensor, as you can with the luxe (swiping down on the fingerprint sensor)
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
davebarnes Avatar
16 months ago
One runs iOS and the other runs Android.
One will have software updates/upgrades for years to come. The other will be found on the island of misfit toys within 2 years.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tha_man Avatar
16 months ago
I would choose SE, because I prioritize performance, longevity and security. I also find fingerprint sensor on the front more convenient than on the back. But if I would for some reason switch to Android, this Pixel would probably be my choice. It seems to be really good phone and a lot of bang for the buck. I also like the design with pinhole camera - much better looking than SE bezels or notch.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Kuo: iPhone 13 to Feature LEO Satellite Communications to Make Calls and Texts Without Cellular Coverage

Sunday August 29, 2021 7:39 am PDT by
The iPhone 13 will feature low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls and send messages in areas without 4G or 5G coverage, according to the reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that the iPhone 13 lineup will feature hardware that is able to connect to LEO satellites. If enabled with the relevant...
General Apps Messages

Android iMessage Competitor Puts Pressure on Apple

Friday July 30, 2021 3:15 am PDT by
Google and the three major U.S. carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, will all support a new communications protocol on Android smartphones starting in 2022, a move that puts pressure on Apple to adopt a new cross-platform messaging standard and may present a challenge to iMessage. Verizon recently announced that it is planning to adopt Messages by Google as its default messaging...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...
bluetti eb70 main

MacRumors Giveaway: Win a Bluetti EB70 Portable Power Station and 200W Solar Panel

Friday September 3, 2021 11:13 am PDT by
For this week's giveaway, we've teamed up with MAXOAK to offer MacRumors readers a chance to win a Bluetti portable power station and an accompanying solar panel. Bluetti makes a range of portable power station options that are useful for camping, emergencies, power outages, off-grid living, and similar situations. The Bluetti EB70 is a solid middle of the road option that offers 716Wh and...
apple privacy

Apple Publishes FAQ to Address Concerns About CSAM Detection and Messages Scanning

Monday August 9, 2021 1:50 am PDT by
Apple has published a FAQ titled "Expanded Protections for Children" which aims to allay users' privacy concerns about the new CSAM detection in iCloud Photos and communication safety for Messages features that the company announced last week. "Since we announced these features, many stakeholders including privacy organizations and child safety organizations have expressed their support of...
General Spotify Feature

Spotify Pauses Plans to Add AirPlay 2 Support to iOS App [Update: Spotify Clarifies]

Friday August 6, 2021 9:07 am PDT by
See update at bottom of article Spotify this week confirmed that its plans to add AirPlay 2 support to its iOS app have been placed on indefinite hiatus. In an online discussion forum post, a Spotify representative said the streaming music service had been working on supporting AirPlay 2, but the company has paused the efforts "for now" due to "audio driver compatibility issues." The...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Begins Preparation for iPhone 13 Production Ahead of Fall Launch

Monday June 28, 2021 3:29 am PDT by
We're just a few months away from when Apple is expected to reveal the 2021 iPhone, dubbed the "iPhone 13." In preparation for its launch, it has been pulling in shipments of different components needed to produce the new iPhones, according to a report from DigiTimes. In years past, Apple released its latest iPhone lineup, alongside a new Apple Watch, during a September event at Apple Park....
General Spotify Feature

Spotify Partners With Delta to Provide Free In-Flight Music and Podcasts Service

Thursday September 2, 2021 12:59 am PDT by
Spotify has announced a new partnership with Delta that will see the streaming service take over the "audio" section of Delta's in-flight seatback entertainment, making select playlists and podcasts freely available to all passengers. You are now free to roam about the cabin—and get the music and podcasts you love at 30,000 feet. Beginning today, we're taking off in a new partnership with...
iphone 12 colors 2021

iPhone 12 Colors: Deciding on The Right Color

Thursday November 5, 2020 8:35 am PST by
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro arrived in October 2020 in a range of color options, with entirely new hues available on both devices, as well as some popular classics. The 12 and 12 Pro have different color choices, so if you have your heart set on a particular shade, you might not be able to get your preferred model in that color. iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone...